Big Garden Campus
While the purchase of the property at 5602 Read Street in Omaha in late March of 2016 was a Godsend, we knew there would be much necessary work over the next few years to make the campus function in a way that facilitated our mission & programming. Partly out of necessity, and partly because it was almost time to begin the growing season, we decided to move in and "live into" the campus for the first season.
We soon discovered, however, that the aging greenhouses were in a state of disrepair, and were not the most energy efficient. Working in collaboration, the staff and board decided that the first renovation project would be the greenhouses. In a fortuitous turn of events, a dear farmer friend decided to retire and donate two double-insulated polyethylene greenhouses measuring roughly 24x80 feet each to The Big Garden. Besides being much more energy efficient, the new greenhouses will increase our growing capacity and our ability to offer on-site demonstrations and growing space to our community partners. We will also begin growing perennials in addition to our vegetable crops.
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Phase 1: Greenhouse Replacement
March & April
Working in collaboration with the previous owner, we moved in gradually, as she moved out. We built dozens of raised garden beds for the 2016 growing season in the garage while the owner packed up the house and florist shop. We also worked to re-home several truckloads of items and debris from the new property, in preparation for our ribbon-cutting ceremony on April 9th. We officially began moving our offices to the new campus in mid-April. As we moved in, we had some minor repairs done to the roof & gutters campus-wide, and we installed ADA-compliant ramps to the Education Center and the house/offices.
May, June & July
Not being ones to let grass grow under our feet, we launched right into the growing season with our summer interns. Having done previous soil & water tests, we immediately planted several new on-site gardens, started seedlings, and hosted our first on-site Nature Camp! In June & July, our educators also taught classes to children and youth at 26 unique sites across Omaha, reaching more than 650 kids each week!
A hardy crew of Big Garden staff and friends traveled to Martell, NE to deconstruct two greenhouses which were donated by Gene Gage of Heartland Organics. The crew did the back-breaking work on two of the hottest days of the year, deconstructing and transporting the greenhouses to our campus in Omaha. The parts were then stored in our garage while we waited for the old greenhouses to be demolished.
August & September
Meanwhile...the first greenhouse demolition crew came in and removed all of the electrical, heating, and cooling elements from the old greenhouses on our campus. But when they began to remove the glass panes, they discovered asbestos between the panes. While it posed no hazard intact, removing the panes one-by-one was a careful and painstaking remediation job that took much longer than anticipated. At this time, the main water line to the campus was turned off in preparation for the full demolition. This meant no running water or toilets for staff for the following 2.5 months!
After the painstaking work of deconstructing the glass panes in the greenhouses was complete, it was time for the heavy equipment to come in and do their work. The framing, retaining walls, and slabs were removed first. Another crew came in and leveled & graded the site.
We had some expected, as well as some unexpected, major tree removal. Please ignore the weeds in the foreground; we were busy juggling lots of balls!
First Annual Harvest Festival
Despite being in the midst of major construction and having no running water, we decided to proceed with our scheduled Harvest Festival! We simply blocked access to the back half of the campus, with plenty of room for activities in the front half. The Prairie Gators provided music, there was apple cider pressing, face painting, seed-saving demonstrations, and even a barn dance! It was a wonderful way to celebrate the first harvest season in our new home.
Sun Valley Landscaping installed four new retaining walls to replace the previous cinderblock walls which were buckling. The new walls are 120# concrete, measuring hundreds of feet in length and requiring tons and tons of backfill dirt & gravel. Drainage is incorporated into the new walls. The walls are beautiful, and the folks at Sun Valley were a pleasure to work with! Photos courtesy of Sun Valley Landscaping.
After a lengthy permitting delay, we were finally back on track to begin constructing the new greenhouses. We also received the green light to install a new water line to the house/offices. Of course the water line installation did not go as smoothly as planned, and we found non-permitted lines and gushing water underground! Nevertheless, we did the necessary work to repair and split the water lines giving us indoor water and toilets on December 2nd! (The greenhouses will be great, but our staff was almost as excited to have indoor water turned on!)
After receiving proper permits, the footings for the new greenhouses were poured and gravel was laid for the pathways. We received a number of bids and contracted South O Roofing to erect the greenhouses under the supervision of Gene Gage. South O Roofing also replaced an exterior wall that had previously connected the upper greenhouse to the Education Center. Soon, they will begin installing the exterior shell of the greenhouses, followed by the electrical, heating, and cooling elements, and the gas line. Ultimately, the lower greenhouse will have fully-accessible pathways.
This month, MUD ran the gas line from the street to the greenhouses. This was about 3 weeks ahead of schedule, and we were pleasantly surprised. South O Roofing sided the upper exterior of the education center and began constructing the end walls of the greenhouses. Under the supervision of farmer Gene Gage, the first layers of poly sheeting were applied to the exterior of the greenhouses. Once the exterior is completed, crews will begin hanging the heating and cooling elements, followed by the gas and electrical lines. We are steadily working toward our March 6th deadline to begin growing seedlings for this season.
This month, the end walls for both greenhouses were completed. The poly sheeting was applied to the lower greenhouse, and fans and furnaces have been hung. We've built tabletops to hold the plant trays, acquired some great stainless steel tables for seeding (thanks Craigslist!), hauled lots of cinderblocks, and begun accumulating the items we need to start planting seeds March 6th! The sidewalks will be installed around us in the coming weeks.
Phase 2: Education Center Renovation
While this will not be a complete renovation of the Education Center, it will include installing ADA-compliant restrooms, relocating the walk-in cooler, replacing windows, installing a stove, dishwasher, and large sink; and re-wiring the electrical panel. These renovations will greatly increase our capacity for on-site classes and programming in keeping with our mission & goals.
March & April
Crews have continued working on the Education Center in order to have it ready by the time our summer interns begin May 22nd. They removed the outdated walk-in cooler, a small closet, and a non-accessible restroom. They re-wired the electrical work, adding a number of outlets and lights. The crews added dropped-ceiling where the cooler had been, and installed a brand-new ADA compliant restroom! They also added a small kitchen sink for use in the education space. This process held us up a week or two as we waited for city inspection. Meanwhile, our staff worked to redirect water runoff from going under the brand new sidewalk. And we had to call the electrician back because the outlets in the lower greenhouse weren't working. Then, just this week we discovered what may be asbestos in an upper storage room, which means we will have to do the proper abatement procedures for removing it. What's that they say about two steps forward, one step back?!
Renovations chugged along in the Education Center during May. First, we sanded, painted, and sealed the concrete floor. Then we painted the walls, did a deep clean of the space, and began reorganizing all of our class supplies and materials, which was a HUGE process as we figured out how we want the workspace to flow this summer. And we prettied up the restroom. We were also the fortunate recipients of a donated brand-new commercial refrigerator! Now we will have room to store class supplies and garden produce. We also purchased and installed a dishwasher, which will save considerable time for our educators. After many late nights and long weekends, we were pretty much ready for our summer interns to begin their work on May 22nd. Then the furnace went out...and we had a rain storm that brought water in through the west wall, so we are currently trenching around the building. And there's still that pesky asbestos room upstairs which will need to be remediated at some point. Again, two steps forward...
Phase 3: Outdoor Classroom